Locked bootloaders, custom roms, developers and hackers.

So, you either know what the title is referring to, you’ve a vague idea or you haven’t the first clue. Stick with it though as i suggest this could affect all smartphone owners.

I’ll explain, in simple terms, what this means, what you can do with your phone and what it possibly means to the manufacturers.

So, in layman’s terms a locked bootloader means that the phone manufacturers have build into the device some sort of protection that stops the likes of you and I tinkering with it, there are several ways and means that they do this and there are a few different ways it is described but the effect is the same.

I don’t believe there are any Android phones that haven’t (or couldn’t)  been unlocked ( yes, I’ve been known to be wrong!) but the point is the direction phone manufacturers are going and how this may affect how they are viewed by us, the buying public. Some phones are pretty well unlocked from the off, where others have all sorts of barriers to trip up the intrepid hackers, it’s usually a question of time and effort.

What does an unlocked bootloader (and therefore phone) mean? In simple terms it will allow the user to install custom roms, runs apps that would otherwise not work ( require root permissions) and remove various network or manufacturers software (sometimes known as bloatware/crapware).

Should I unlock my phone? Yes! If nothing else to allow you to remove the aforementioned bloatware and get the phone running as it was supposed to from Google, sometimes known as ‘Vanilla’- as in plain vanilla flavoured. An unlocked phone will have a longer life, getting operating system updates from unofficial sources (Cyanogen and Modaco for example) long after the official updates have stopped.

The reason for the article was to discuss the manufacturers and their changing policies towards this. Originally HTC have been the champions of unlocked phones, long before the days of android people were hacking their Windows Mobile phones and gave rise to phone hacking site XDA developers , no undoubtedly the largest forum for phone modifying and hacking. Recently though HTC have done a complete about turn, locking a few of their recent phones and stating at recent phone launches that they will be keeping that policy in place. As a result, the main players in the development/hacking world are turning their backs on HTC, moving onto other makes of phones…..

Locked bootloaders, custom roms, developers and hackers.

……and those manufacturers are Sony Ericsson, Lg and Samsung. To be fair, Samsung haven’t really had a policy of locking down their phones, but with their most recent top end phone, the Galaxy S2, they appear to be releasing the tools for the hacker (Kernel source code) much quicker . Sony Ericsson have going the complete opposite direction to HTC, last year Se released the Experia X10, a potentially great phone but stuffed with all sorts of modifications and an out of date operating system (Android 1.6) , worse of all, it was seriously locked down, meaning no one could be bothered to try to hack it and remove the stuffy interface and update the operating system, the phone sold ok but was mostly ignored by the enthusiast community (It has now been unlocked..) Now, with SE’s latest batch of smartphones they have openly embraced having the phones unlocked, even having an official section on their website, as a result the developer community is expressing an interest in their phones. LG are fairly new to the world of high end smartphones, but they did something right with the Optimus 2X, creating a buzz before release  due to being the first dual core phone to market and making the phone easily unlocked, this triggered the arguably the most well know rom developer Cyanogen and his fellow hackers to adopt the phone.

Motorola have always had a policy of locking their phones and apparently have no plans to change, as a result are largely ignored by the developer and the community.

Locked bootloaders, custom roms, developers and hackers.

What does this all mean?

Honestly? Not a lot! The truth is 99% of phone buyers don’t know much more about their phones other than it looks nice and possibly what type it is, Apple, Android, Blackberry or Windows. Most have no idea of the CPU it’s running let alone if the bootloader can be unlocked.

Here’s my thoughts and possible the point, there is clearly no doubt that the phone manufacturers have something to learn from the developer/hacking community, LG has openly referenced Cyanogen and I believe supplied him with hardware, Cyanogen Roms are available for more and more phones, Paul O’Brien (Modaco) has helped Advent with the Vega tablet and found fixes for many phones. I feel that companies that accept the developers playing with their devices are looking outwards and forwards, there is no doubt they monitor what is being done and learn from it, as if they are saying, ” Oh, I see what you’ve done, lets incorporate that into our next update” even if it is unspoken and never acknowledged….. so maybe all smartphone owners have something to gain from unlocked bootloaders…. who knows?

Sorry for the rambling post, what are your thoughts?






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  • After a petition by a Atrix user Motorola have said they plan to unlock their bootloaders in 2011. http://ausdroid.net/2011/04/26/the-little-aussie-taking-on-motorola-u-s/

    However as someone whose been burned by Motorola myself I’ll believe it when I see it is my attitude, and this seems to be the attitude of most of the custom rom community. 

    • Anonymous

      there is a htc pertition here http://www.groubal.com/htc-bootloaders-and-nand/

  • It’s a huge shame that HTC have taken the decision to seriously lock down their handsets. My entry into the Android world started with the Hero, I then moved to the Desire and then to the Desire HD. I love the look of their handsets and the build quality (more metal on your phones please designers!) but I can’t see me continuing to buy them if they continue with this policy. 

    Other manufacturers are starting to ‘get it’, SonyEricsson in particular deserve huge praise for their turn around from the X10 days to their current stance. I really hope HTC re-evaluate their position on locked bootloaders and give the consumer back the choice. After all, isn’t that the spirit of Android?

  • Hokum

    Should phones go the way of the PC market? You buy a phone
    it either includes an operating system or is blank. You can then choose what OS
    to buy or install.

    I’ll choose the HTC blah blah, with windows phone 7, sales person goes to the
    store room and picks up the phone and gives it to the customer… Next customer, I’d like an HTC blah blah with android please…

    With phones like the HD2 proving that you don’t need different hardware to run
    different OS it make you wonder why bother making 3 or 4 phones with very
    similar specs but with different OS when you could just make one and save on
    RND and manufacturing.

    • I completely agree with this comment. Why have 3 – 4 different phones when 1 phone can run different Operating Systems.

      That would be a huge step forward if the phone manufacturers decided to do this.

  • spences10

    Always root, of it can’t be rooted there’s no point in getting the phone

    Regardless if you pay for the phone outright or are on a contact it is essentially your hardware, hence you should be able to do what you want with it

  • I’ve always been interested in rooting my phones, but my interest ramped up when I learned about Carrier IQ.  While CIQ has been proven to be primarly a diagnostic tool, it’s one more example of apps loaded on my device that I the owner of the device didn’t install, have no knowledge of, and can’t get rid of without root access.

    I have bought and repaired PC’s of friends and family in the past, I can remove the bundled “bloat” that was loaded with their PC’s with no problem. If anyone ever tried to remove AOL installed on a PC, they now how intrusive some bundled software can be. But this is the area of contention, with our smartphones we aren’t allowed the same freedom to get rid of crapware. Some of it is so buried you can’t identify it on the running apps menu, you can’t turn it off, and can’t opt out either. That’s ridiculous, and the only way to get rid of it yourself is to have root access to your device, which is denied via a locked bootloader.

    When I purchased my “stock” Motorola Bionic from VZW it didn’t have Carrier IQ, but it did have bloatware I don’t need and don’t want. The device was shipped with a locked bootloader and a contract that any customization of the device could result in an end of service. So basically, they want me to pay for this device and use it with in the parameters that they dictate. A device loaded with apps that possibly invade my privacy, consume battery life, and generate additional monetary revenue when they already charge extremely high rates. I don’t understand why the bloatware is bundled when I can go to VZW website or app market and download it, if I decide I have to have it?

    Consumers deserve the right to choose what is loaded on their device.  Both Motorola and VZW started as American companies; but their decisions on this bootloader issue are, in my opinion un American to the core!